Easily one of the most famous storms in the Solar System, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is so large that it is visible through many Earth-based telescopes.
The Great Red Spot is thought to have been in existence for at least 340 years. The oval red eye rotates in an anticlockwise direction due to the crushing high pressure on the planet. Winds can reach over 400 kilometres per hour (250 miles per hour) around the spot, however, inside the storm they seem to be nearly nonexistent. And that’s not all, this complicated weather system has an average temperature of about -162 degrees Celsius (-260 degrees Fahrenheit).
At around eight kilometres (five miles) above the surrounding clouds and held in place by an eastward jet stream to its south and a very strong westward jet flowing into its north, the Great Red Spot has travelled several times around Jupiter, but how did such a behemoth of a storm come to appear on the gas giant’s surface?
The answer is not clear at this time despite the efforts of planetary scientists attempting to unravel the answers. However, what experts do theorise is that the storm is driven by an internal heat source, and it absorbs smaller storms that fall into its path, passing over them and swallowing them whole. Another thing that they also know is that the Great Red Spot hasn’t always been its current diameter. In 2004, astronomers noticed that the great storm had around half the 40,000-kilometre (25,000-mile) diameter that it had around 100 years before. If the Great Red Spot continues to downsize at this rate, it could eventually morph from an oval shape into a more circular storm by 2040. You might think that this well-known feature won’t be sticking around for long as it becomes smaller, but experts believe that the great age-old storm is here to stay since it is strongly powered by numerous other phenomena in the atmosphere around it.
Storms like these are not out of place on Jupiter, whose atmosphere is a zigzag pattern of 12 jet streams, with blemishes of warmer brown and cooler white ovals in the atmosphere owed to storms as young as a few hours or stretching into centuries.